October 1, 2015

Isn’t it kind of narcissistic to write a blog about yourself?

bonnassieux_modestie_Ly                                         Jean-Marie Bonnassieux. La Modestie (1846). 

 

Isn’t it kind of narcissistic to write a blog about yourself?
Such was the question I confronted myself with over and over before starting this blog. Like many people, I was conditioned from an early age to believe in an intrinsic bond between modesty, morality, and professionalism. Now, however, with the widely documented success of professional bloggers who earn a living off of ‘just being themselves,’ it appears that the notion of self-promotion, especially with regard to one’s professional image, has changed. Being your own brand is now encouraged. Whereas members of my grandfather’s generation believed that ‘what do you defines who you are,’ now the commonly encouraged belief is that ‘who you are defines what you do.’ And while it’s easy to dismiss this as a result of an ever-growing cult of individuality, I wonder to what extent the public presentation of one’s personal self can be rationalised as morally praiseworthy, acceptable, or questionable.

Man Booker Prize-winning novelist and art critic, John Berger, in his 1972 seminal documentary and companion text of critical essays on Western cultural aesthetics entitled, Ways of Seeing, similarly observed this phenomenon of disseminating private opinions for public consumption, albeit largely in the context of image mass-reproduction rather than the mass-distribution of personal information via the internet. In the final paragraph of his last essay, which concerns issues of glamour and publicity, he writes that, “Publicity is the life of this culture—in so far as without publicity capitalism could not survive…Capitalism survives by forcing the majority, whom it exploits, to define their own interests as narrowly as possible.”

A key characteristic of capitalism has always been the emphasis on individual gain rather than communal progress, and here, Berger presents the idea of using publicity to gain an advantage over the rest of society by editing ourselves into exclusive forms for public consumption. But beyond the issue of capitalism, what actually catches my attention most is how Berger believes that people are now forced to “define their interests as narrowly as possible.”

It’s an interesting thought because it resonates with those presented in a book published forty-three years later by Aliza Licht in May 2015 about using self-promotion to build one’s own brand, and in doing so, creating a niche market for which there is only one product available: ourselves. In Leave Your Mark, she encourages readers to reflect on the key characteristics that make themselves unique in order to present that edited image to the world. The mentality from which she advocates this operates on the assumption that people are “innately judgemental” and view each other in “one-sentence description[s]” anyway, so we might as well play an active role in creating that image for our own benefit. In short, she promotes the reduction of our complex selves into their best, most essential forms in order to be comprehended faster and more easily by the public. Exclusivity and the usage of it for upward mobility—in this regard, doesn’t building one’s own brand seem in line with the selfish mentality that Berger is wary of after all?

Perhaps. And perhaps I am playing into that game, whether I like it or not. But the desire to share our thoughts with others comprises an innate part of our sociality as humans, and it is hard for me to see anything wrong with that. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “Practice any art…fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money or fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.” And as the internet is but one tool to share our thoughts with others, I see this endeavour as a way to practice collecting my thoughts and writing—something I do professionally, but here on a more casual platform and with a wider audience given the wider range of content.

And that is all I have to say about the conception of this blog. I hope you enjoy it!

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